Wedding planning tips I wish someone told me & things I’m thankful for

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I have been saving this post for a while, trying to find some way to fit these thoughts into the theme of my blog, but in light of the fact that four of my close friends (two couples) got engaged on New Years, I would like to share a few pieces of advice with them. Congratulations J and B!

Planning a wedding entails endless details and endless amounts of checklists to manage all the details of wedding planning. I am obsessed with lists, but rather than recreate what’s already been recreated thousands of times, here are some things that I learned from experience. If you have any other tips, I’d love to hear them.

I wish someone told me…Don’t schedule all your cake tastings in one day. Not only will you end up consuming more sugar than you ever have in your adult life, you will probably be too busy to have a decent lunch, which will just augment the sugar high.

I’m thankful…We had a long engagement and that we didn’t wait until summer to take our engagement photos

I wish someone told me…You can’t prepare for every emergency. Really, you can’t, no matter how hard you try. We had two unexpected emergencies: 1) I got appendicitis six weeks before the wedding and had to have my appendix removed. Appendicitis! I was hospitalized six weeks before my wedding. 2) A week before the wedding one of my bridesmaids canceled.  And, you know, everything turned out perfectly.

I wish someone told me…If the ceremony starts before 5pm, be very clear about the start time in your invites. Many people will assume the wedding starts in the evening.

I’m thankful…we had an intimate rehearsal dinner.

I wish someone told me….On the big day, get your make-up done before getting your hair done. Hair pictures are classic and you want to have a pretty face for them.

I am thankful that we didn’t wait to take our honeymoon. Planning a honeymoon and a wedding was a huge undertaking, but well worth it in the end.

I wish someone told…to prepare for the thank you notes. After planning the whole wedding, it’s easy to forgot that there’s still work to do once you get back from your honeymoon. Buy the thank you cards at the same time as the invitations and start addressing them as you receive attendance confirmations.

The Enlightened Yuppie

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I figured it’s about time to explain why I call my blog the enlightened yuppie. The term “yuppie” has been around for a couple of decades, and typically refers to “young upwardly-mobile professionals”. Yuppie has been regarded as a derogatory term, often referring to spoiled young adults who have had everything in their entire lives handed to them.

Just to be clear, this is not me. This is not most of us.

Some claim the yuppie died in the late eighties due to the stock market crash or early nineties due to the recession. But the yuppie appears to be alive and well. Yuppies are blogging about indie rock bands, yoga, and saving the world one cocktail at a time.

The yuppie is, apparently, not dead after all. In fact, you may be a yuppie without even realizing it.

Ahead of her time, the yuppie is simply misunderstood, just as hippies were in the sixties. As Jeff Gordinier points out in his article:

“The only remaining trace of hippie ideology can be found in supermarket aisles full of organic, farm-raised food—but don’t kid yourself: Those people creating a boom market for Whole Foods and organic baby food are yups, not hippies.”

Hippies had the vision; yuppies popularized it.

(Oh yeah, and we can’t forget who popularized the use of marijuana for its “medicinal” qualities.)

Just as the hippies of the sixties were progressive for their time, the yuppies of the last few decades are also ahead of their time. Who is driving our electric cars? Shopping at Farmers’ Markets? Drinking fairly traded coffee? These choices are not just about proving one’s social status, folks. These decisions aren’t based on entitlement; they are based on a hopeful vision for our future.

Yuppies are true optimists.

Yes, perhaps yuppies are lucky to have the luxury to choose which social causes to support. Yuppies aren’t just scraping by, but ultimately, isn’t that what we all aspire to?

So, why enlightened yuppie? Yuppie centers on a social connection to our world, while enlightened illustrates a spiritual connection to our natural world. I’m connected to everything, and every decision I make matters.

Many stops on the tamale train, Part II

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Steamed Tamales

Steamed tamales

That’s right; I made tamales. After many evenings of preparation, which you can read about in my post here, I was ready to spread masa and steam my tamales. Essentially, tamales are made by spreading masa on corn husks, and then wrapping and steaming them.

Corn husks

Corn husks

Corn husks, or hojas as my mother-in-law calls them, hold everything together.  Hojas is Spanish for leaves, petals, or blades, as in the blade of a knife.  I like to think of the corn husks as the petals of the maize plant, but unlike most plants, these petals are not so delicate.

I also like to think about how tamales are analogous to maize. Not just conceptually, not just because they come from the same plant, but visually analogous. The hojas surround and protect the masa, just as the petals protect the ear of corn.

Spread masa

Spread masa

Filling the tamales

Filling the tamales

The masa is made from hominy, or corn kernels that have been subjected to a process called nixtamalization. The nixtamalization process involves soaking the kernels in a lye or limewater solution.  This process removes toxins, makes the grain easier to grind, improves the flavor of the grain and has many nutritional and other benefits.

Maybe one day I’ll grind my own hominy–maybe I’ll even grow my own corn–but for my first time making tamales we purchased masa preparada. Finally, we assemble the tamales. Assembling the tamales is a time-consuming endeavor, but well worth it, if you ask me, especially when you have the help of friends and family.

In addition to red chile and pork tamales, we also made green chile and cheese tamales. The pork was locally-sourced and humanely-raised and the chiles were fresh, not canned, Anaheim chiles.

We made about 10 dozen tamales to share with our family and friends, and I’m already thinking about other types of fillings.  Chicken mole? Black beans and veggies? I’m getting hungry!

Anaheim chiles

Roasted Anaheim chiles

Many stops on the tamale train, Part I

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I’ve been with Sam for over five years, and I’ve wanted to learn how to make tamales for at least that long.  As much as I love Sam’s family–and I know they love me too–the tamale recipe is sacred.  I’ve mentioned offhandedly, not wanting to impose on his family’s traditions, my desire to learn how to make tamales year after year, but unlike previous years, this year I was actually invited to learn how to make tamales. And I can barely contain my excitement!

People have been eating tamales since at least 7,000 B.C.  Eaten by the Aztecs and Mayans in Central and North America and the Incans in South America, tamales have been filled with just about everything you can think of–meats, vegetables, nuts, fruit, and more.

Once made for their portability, a new culture has developed around tamale-making. Of course tamale-making occurs on a large scale by grocery distributors and restaurants, but I’m interested in tamale making as an independent family endeavor, especially Chicano families.  Although there are many Chicano families that still retain much of the “Mexican” culture, the families I know are very Americanized–third and fourth generation Americans that no longer speak Spanish, who grew up on Richie Valens, Linda Ronstadt, War–these family’s closest cultural connection to Mexico is food.

Preparing Chiles

Preparing Chiles

Typically, families make their tamales around the holidays because tamale-making is a labor intensive process when made by hand.  They make 10, 12, 15 dozen tamales, giving them out to friends and family.  Most often friends and family will return the favor with a dozen of their tamales. In December, tamales are served with a fried egg and salsa for breakfast and frijoles and arroz for lunch and dinner.  Whole conversations about masa (corn dough) or chiles ensue at the dinner table or over coffee on a Sunday morning. Gloria adds chile sauce to her masa.  Joan tried using olive oil instead of lard in her masa.  So and so’s masa is dry, so and so’s masa is delicious.  The California chiles are spicy this year. The New Mexico chiles have a smoky taste this year. Families scrutinize each others tamales, always concluding that their family recipe is the best.

I love the cultural and social aspect of making tamales.  My mother-in-law says she’s always surprised that everyone she has ever taught how to make tamales wants to start off big.  “Why don’t they start with 3 or 4 dozen?”, she says.  For me it’s because I’m not making the tamales just for me and Sam; I want to experience the pleasure of giving tamales to my friends and family.Preparing Chiles

So, I’ve been calling my mother-in-law every night this week for the next set of instructions.  Monday night I prepared the chiles; Tuesday night I made the chile sauce; tonight I’ll prepare the pork; tomorrow night I’ll shred the pork and place it in the marinade; and Friday night I’ll drive the 6 hours to my mother-in-law’s house, so that we can start spreading the masa bright and early on Saturday morning.

Why I’m no longer a vegetarian

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There are a lot of reasons to be a vegetarian. You love animals. You believe that  raising animals for food is bad for the environment.  You worry about saturated fats and high cholesterol.  These are all reasons I used to cite when asked by friends and family why I don’t eat meat.

Now, I eat meat, and I feel as if I’m choosing sides–my carnivorous friends are giddy with excitement watching me eat meat. My vegetarian friends seem to think that I’m no longer interested in a veggie burger or lunch at Cafe Gratitude.  I haven’t been eating veggie burgers and avocado sandwiches the last five years because I had to. I like them. I really do.

On my first drive up I-5, I decided to stop eating beef.

So, why did I start eating meat again?  First off, there’s bad meat and there’s good meat.  Bad meat is raised in a factory, treated inhumanely, fed food that is not part of the animal’s natural diet, and treated with antibiotics.  Bad meat is shipped to your grocery store from thousands of miles away. (Talk about a carbon foot print!) The worst of all bad meats is ground beef that comes from multiples sources across state and country lines.  Beef from various sources is mixed together and treated with chemicals and, ultimately, cannot even be traced to its original source. I don’t know about you, but I like to know where my food comes from as well as what’s in it!

Good meat is treated humanely, fed food that it part of it’s natural diet, and not treated with antibiotics and hormones.  Good meat doesn’t have to travel far to reach your plate.  Good meat is available at your farmers’ market and local natural foods store.

Happy cows at Gleason Ranch

The debate between what’s better: cheap mass-produced meat or humanly-treated and locally-raised meats is a non-issue for me, but not for everyone. The real reason I am no longer a vegetarian is because, rather than removing myself from the debate entirely, I am actively supporting humane food production practices that I can stand behind and feel good about. People are not going to stop eating meat. Meat tastes good and can be part of a healthy diet. The more people who support local farmers and butchers that treat their animals humanely, the more momentum the movement will gain.

I know it’s expensive to buy meat from local farmers, so here are some considerations:

Buy meat on the bone.  It’s less processed, and you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint as a result. And, you can use the bones to make delicious stocks that add a plethora of nutrients to your soups, risotto, and other grains.

Buy local first, then organic.  Local producers tend to be smaller businesses that are less likely than mass producers to be able to afford organic certification.  Support them. They need it.

Eat less meat! Meat doesn’t have to be the focal point of every meal.

I’d love to hear you thoughts on other ways to eat meat responsibly.

The best meal ever made

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According to Sam, it was the best meal I ever made.  He says that about once a week, but this time he was emphatic.  I almost believed him.  I do think it was pretty dang good–probably because everything in it would be delicious on its own.  It was an amalgamation of tasty goodness.  I don’t even know what to call it, but that doesn’t matter because good food doesn’t need a name.  Here’s how I would describe it: Broccoli, sauteed beet greens, and penne with miso dressing topped with chopped fermented beets.  The pasta salad would have been satisfying on its own, but topped with fermented beets, it deserved an emphatic “best meal ever.”

I like to think of recipes as outlines; I need room to experiment when I’m cooking, so I often read many recipes on the same dish, and, based on what I have in the refrigerator, I throw something together.  I’m also often inclined to choose the most basic recipe so that I can flavor it as I like, which is what I did when making the fermented beets.

There are many ways to prepare beets for fermentation–you can grate them, slice them, chop them, or even ferment them whole, but there more surface area you create, the faster they will ferment.  I decide against grating, since I’d like them to retain some crunch, so, after I peal them, I thinly slice them.

I follow the recipe here, but I also add about a half cup chopped onion and one minced garlic clove.  I left my beets on the counter for about nine days and then placed them in the refrigerator.  Air temperature also affects fermentation time, and the temperature here is about 60 degrees, which is probably why my batch took longer than three days.  While on the counter, I used a plastic baggy full of water to keep the beets submerged in the brine.

For the miso dressing, I used the recipe here, simply omitting the honey and using rice vinegar instead of white wine vinegar.

I tossed the miso dressing with lightly steamed broccoli, sauteed beet greens, and penne.  I topped everything with a generous scoop of fermented beets, and viola!

Good food doesn’t need a name

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Sam, describing one of our favorite restaurants, Main Street Garden and Cafe, which serves local, sustainable food, pastured meats, and house made salami, described the menu as serving nameless entrees.

Instead of choosing between a mystery plate called Tour of Italy and the Surf and Turf, as we may have had to do elsewhere, we order the Braised pork shoulder w/ yellow wax peppers, dry farm tomato, rattle snake pole beans & smoked almonds.  Practically all the ingredients are ON the menu!  And not to mention, I love that Sam so astutely notices these details, but almost jokingly comments on them.  Oh, and the food there is beyond excellent; I recommend it highly, and if you don’t live in California, find a restaurant that lists ingredients rather than catchy names, and tell me about it. For those who are curious, here’s a review of Main Street Garden.

More about me

I’m not quite sure how to start a blog, so I just decided to begin by reflecting on why I’m starting this blog in the first place.  I have this nagging feeling that I need to do something different. I spend five mornings a week grudgingly getting reading for work and most days watching the clock. Why do I spend more than half my waking life looking forward to those few sweet hours at the end of the work day and the two bookends, Saturday and Sunday, straining to keep all the pieces from falling apart?  Certainly I’m not alone in this…right?  I either need to find work that I’m passionate about or spend significantly less time working so that I can focus on something more meaningful.  I can’t just quit my job tomorrow.  So, what do I do?  Well, I started this blog. I’m exploring my passions and hope to turn one of them into a source of income.  I want to feel good about what I do each day.

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